Drop-off or not, the most relevant charge we can now tie to Joel Embiid is his ascent to the top of the Kia Race to the MVP ladder.
The big Philly man controversially capped the climb on Wednesday just before celebrates its 29th birthday.
Called for what would have been his sixth foul with 4:12 left after vanquishing Evan Mobley while clearing a 16-foot jumper, Embiid pleaded his case with umpire Derek Richardson as the crowd of 19,432 at Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse erupted pending disqualification.
Sixers coach Doc Rivers immediately called for a replay review.
The result: no call.
That reversal grounded the Sixers big man to complete a masterpiece of 36 points and 18 rebounds, as Philadelphia extended the NBA’s current longest winning streak to six games by beating the Cleveland Cavaliers 118-109. defeat. The matchup represented the final meeting between the Sixers and Cavaliers, which set the tie-breaker for a pair of teams currently ranked third and fourth in the East, respectively.
With a two-way dominance almost every night, Embiid shoots 60% overall and 50% on 3-pointers on this winning streak with 8.5 rebounds, 4.7 assists and 2.5 blocks per game in anchoring a team that went 8-3 has been since the All-Star break.
“I thought it was a good call,” Embiid said of Wednesday’s replay review. “Just before the hit you saw that it was already starting to flop. I watch basketball every day and I was pretty sure they would call it the other way around.”
Cavs coach JB Bickerstaff, of course, disagreed.
“Obviously, that’s an indictment,” he said.
However, what’s not up for debate (from this point of view) is where Embiid currently stacks against the rest of the Kia MVP hopefuls, as the Sixers prepare for a Friday game in Charlotte (7 ET, NBA League pass).
So we rearrange the top of the order to reflect Embiid’s last tear, not to mention the Denver Nuggets’ recent struggles led by reigning back-to-back MVP winner Nikola Jokic. The international bigs occupy the top positions in the latest Kia Race to the MVP ladder, and the betting action has moved in that direction too, with the Action Network, FanDuel and DraftKings all recently making Embiid the betting favorite to take the prize.
But as fast as the action changed Embiid’s direction, we all know that this race can and probably does shall take another turn over the stretch with teams fighting for positioning in the postseason.
Giannis Antetokounmpo lurks at No. 3 on the ladder and has played in just three of Milwaukee’s last six games, scoring 25 points in a 139-123 loss to the Indiana Pacers on Thursday. Antetokounmpo has averaged 35.7 ppg and 10.7 rpg over that span for a Bucks squad that finally looks healthy after dealing with a slew of injuries earlier this season.
“We are a really good team. But nothing is guaranteed in life,” said Antetokounmpo. “Hopefully with everyone we have on this team, we can go out and compete. Before we get there, we have to compete with health. is the No. 1 opponent we have now. If we are healthy, we have a chance to go out there and compete and try to get what we deserve.”
Jayson Tatum, meanwhile, checks in at No. 4, despite shooting 12-for-38 in his last two games while going 2-for-18 on 3-pointers in that span.
Luka Doncic is about to drop out of the top five. He missed his third straight game on Wednesday due to a pulled left thigh as Dallas defeated San Antonio 137-128 in overtime to break a three-game skid.
And now the top 5 in the 2022-23 Kia Race to the MVP Ladder:
1. Joel Embiid, Philadelphia 76ers
Last week’s ranking: No. 2
Season Stats: 33.5 ppg, 10.2 rpg, 4.1 apg
Seven consecutive 30-point performances push the NBA’s leading scorer to No. 1 on this week’s MVP ladder. Embiid made another gem against Cleveland’s No. 2 defense on Wednesday with 36 points, 18 rebounds and three blocks, marking the third consecutive appearance the big man has racked up at least 30 points with three blocks. The 29-year-old became the first player since Hall of Famer Shaquille O’Neal to pull off the feat, taking advantage of every opportunity to knock down all 10 of his free throw attempts. Embiid, the reigning Eastern Conference Player of the Week, leads a Sixers squad that is 20-12 on the road with nine games remaining away from home.
2. Nikola Jokic, Denver Nuggets
Last week’s ranking: No. 1
Season Stats: 24.8 ppg, 11.9 rpg, 9.9 apg
Jokic helped the Nuggets break a season-high four-game losing streak on Thursday with a 30-point performance in the club’s 119-100 victory over the Detroit Pistons. The win clinched the Northwest Division for Denver, as Jokic completed just one assist on his 28th triple-double of the season. “I’ve told our team it’s a good win,” said Nuggets coach Michael Malone. “Catched a playoff spot, won your division, that’s great. Let this be the start of something special. We lost four in a row, the lowest of the low for us this season.” However, it is clear that the difficult times have not stopped Jokic from holding higher expectations. Check out the recent comments from the Denver great in his “Timeout With Taylor Rooks” interview.
3. Giannis Antetokounmpo, Milwaukee Bucks
Last week’s ranking: number 3
Season Stats: 31.4 ppg, 11.9 rpg, 5.5 apg
Milwaukee clinched the title as the first team to win 50 games, clinching the league’s first postseason berth on Tuesday after a 36-point, 11-rebound showing from Antetokounmpo, who tallied 46 points in a 133-124 win the night before against Sacramento. When Khris Middleton comes in with 31 points and nine assists like he did against the Kings, you know you’re cooking with hot grease. As Antetokounmpo said before, it is imperative that the Bucks stay healthy during the long run. In Thursday’s loss to Indiana, Antetokounmpo played his 711th career game with the Bucks, tying Junior Bridgeman (1974-84) for the most in franchise history.
4. Jayson Tatum, Boston Celtics
Last week’s ranking: number 4
Season Stats: 30.1 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 4.7 apg
Tatum joins Embiid and Antetokounmpo as one of three players in the NBA to average 30 points or more with nine rebounds. He is also the trio’s second winningest competitor this season as the Celtics have 48 wins (trailing only Antetokounmpo by 50). If the 25-year-old continues to contribute at this rate, he will become the first player in team annals to set those averages in a single season. Those stats would eclipse the previous record set by Celtics legend Larry Bird during the 1987-88 season (29.9 ppg, 9.3 rpg). Midway through a six-game road trip, the Celtics face Damian Lillard and the Portland Trail Blazers on Friday (10 ET, NBA League Pass) before heading to Utah and Sacramento to wrap up the trip. If Boston finds a way to reclaim the No. 1 spot in the East, we may see Tatum rise in the top five.
5. Luka Doncic, Dallas Mavericks
Last week’s ranking: number 5
Season Stats: 33.0 ppg, 8.6 rpg, 8.0 apg
Doncic was trying to fight his way through a left thigh strain that has hampered him for several games. But the pain from the injury kept getting worse, causing the superstar point guard to miss his third straight game on Wednesday in San Antonio. The good news is that an MRI on Doncic’s left thigh reportedly revealed no damage. But the Mavericks are eighth in the West and have lost six of their last 10 after some tough road games. First they visit the Lakers on Friday (10:30 a.m. ET, NBA TV), followed by a clash Monday in Memphis. Doncic isn’t expected to miss much time, but it’s important to note that co-star Kyrie Irving (foot) has also sat out three consecutive games for a club trying to secure a spot in the Play-In tournament. to avoid.
The next five:
6. Domantas Sabonis, Sacramento Kings (Last week’s ranking: No. 8)
7. Julius Randle, New York Knicks (Last week’s ranking: No. 7)
8. Shai Gilgeous-Alexander, Oklahoma City Thunder (Last week’s ranking: No. 10)
9. James Harden, Philadelphia 76ers (Last week’s ranking: No. 9)
10. Devin Booker,Phoenix Suns (Last week’s ranking: not ranked)
And five others (listed alphabetically): Anthony Davis, Los Angeles Lakers; Kevin Durant, Phoenix Suns; De’Aaron Fox, Sacramento Kings; Lauri Markkanen, Utah Jazz; Yes Morant, Memphis Grizzlies.
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Michael C. Wright is a senior writer for NBA.com. You can email him herefind his archive here and follow him on Twitter.
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